Run For Cover is a weekly music column comparing cover songs to the original version. Prepare for a major bending of rules as we hear musicians throw around genres, tempos, style, and intent. Whether they’re picking up another’s song out of respect or boredom, the results have impressed us.
When it comes to Motown, no one lays down lines quite like Smokey Robinson. The American R&B pop singer-songwriter started out as the frontman of The Miracles at age 15 (!) — a group that went on to change pop, rock and roll, and R&B history — before leaving the group in 1972 to focus on his role as Motown’s vice president.
Yeah. It’s casual.
So when Robinson came back the following year singing strong as a solo artist, the music scene reaped the benefits. His hit ballad “Baby Come Close” and Miracles tribute “Sweet Harmony” reminded listeners why he solidified his role in history. Contemporary collaborators Marvin Gaye and Stevie Wonder were rocketing at this time in the mid-1970s, and as such Robinson fell by the wayside.
Perhaps one of his most well-known songs is The Miracles only #1 radio hit, “Tears Of A Clown”. Stevie Wonder wrote the music for the song but couldn’t pen lyrics to accompany the instrumental track. At a 1966 Motown Christmas party, he reached out to Robinson to see what he could do. It took no time for him to fall in love with Wonder’s work–it was the first radio hit to feature a bassoon–and come up with the story of a melancholic man who’s kicking his feet in the dirt because he doesn’t have a woman in his life who loves him. It was sad, it was fast, and it was poignant enough to weasel its way onto the radio and into the Grammy Hall of Fame.
Tame Impala have seen massive success ever since their breakthrough album, Lonerism, came out in 2012. They’ve toured alongside The Flaming Lips, played the world’s biggest festivals, and saw their record perched high on every end of the year list. After all of that, however, bassist Nick Allbrook found he couldn’t juggle his time in both Tame Impala and his side project, Pond. With his head raised high and his feet moving forward, the only bad part of his decision was not getting to hang with his mates every day (“I love them more than anything,” he told NME)
And thus, Pond hit their stride.
Their sound re-contextualizes that of their original band. The five piece psych rock group have been busy touring the world and making TV appearances left and right this year. There’s pop improv and thick psych bass, often floating somewhere between a solid sound and a loose jam on both 2012’s Beard, Wives, Denim and 2013’s Hobo Rocket. Back before their rising fame, though, they were figuring out the hooks and kinks of a new group, and their cover of Smokey Robin’s “Tears Of a Clown” was one of those methods.
The guitar-driven take sees the band putting the classic through some serious reverb. Covering Motown staples can be a tricky thing: there’s so much foundation, so much charm, and so little room for improvement. Pond acknowledged that and sat down to play their own loose, fun version. Then they went and made it a free download.
Pond go ahead and make their cover an overload of fuzz that swirls around a solid bass line and sweet chorus of harmonies, and Allbrook steps up to the mic with stupendous results. For such a tiny man, he gives it his all. It’s clear there’s no Motown soul in his core, so he goes forward and shouts it out, laughing through his part. We’re glad he did. It’s a cheerful take that splashes a little more volume into an already sunny classic.